Sylvain Marquis knew what women desired — chocolate. And so he had learned as he grew into adulthood how to master a woman's desire.
Outside, November had turned the Paris streets cold and gray. But in his laboratoire, he brought his chocolate to the temperature he wanted it, smooth and luxurious. He spread it out across his marble counter. With a deft flick of his hand, he stroked it up and spread it out again, glowing and dark.
In the shop, an elegant blonde whose every movement spoke of wealth and privilege was buying a box of his chocolates, unable to resist biting into one before she left the shop. He could see her through the glass window that allowed visitors a glimpse of the way artisan chocolate was made. He saw her perfect teeth sink into the thumbnail size chocolate and knew exactly the way the shell yielded with a delicate resistance, the way the ganache inside melted on her tongue, the pleasure that ran through her body.
He smiled a little, bending his head to focus on his chocolate again. He did not see the next woman as she entered his shop.
But as it turned out, she wasn't about to let him miss her.
The scent of chocolate snuck out onto the rainy street. Boot heels broke their rapid rhythm as passersby, bundled in long black coats, glanced toward the source and hesitated. Some stopped. Some went on. Cade's momentum carried her inside.
Theobromine wrapped around her like a warm blanket against the chill. Cacao flooded her senses.
She hugged herself. The odor brought her home, belying her own eyes, which told her she couldn't be farther from the steel vats of the factory, the streams of chocolate ejecting without break in tempo from spouts into molds, and the billions of perfectly identical bars and bold-printed wrappings which had formed her life.
Something, some tension she carried with her, unknit in her shoulder muscles, and the shiver from its release rippled all the way through her body.
Someone had molded chocolate into giant cacao bean halves which graced the display windows and added drama to the corners of the shop. She could imagine the hand that had shaped it — a man's hand, strong, square, long-fingered, capable of the most delicate precision. She had a photo of that hand as her laptop wallpaper.
On the surface of each bean, he had painted a scene from a different country that produced cacao. And on the surface of the horizontal "beans", he had placed thumbnail-size chocolates, exactly where he wanted them.
She looked around. Tucked in corners here and there, black brands on shipping crates spoke of distant lands. Real cacao beans spilled from the crates, reminding customers that chocolate was an exotic thing, brought from another world. Cade had seen those lands. The black brands brought their scents and sights back to her mind, the people she had met there, the sounds of machetes on cacao trees, the scent of fermenting cacao husks.
He had scattered cocoa nibs here and there, as a master chef might decorate a plate with a few drops of sauce. He had spilled vanilla beans and cinnamon bark on multiple surfaces, wantonly, a débauche of raw luxury.
Every single element of this decor emphasized the raw, beautiful nature of chocolate and thus the triumph of its ultimate refinement: the minuscule squares, the chocolats worth one hundred fifty dollars a pound, from the hand of Sylvain Marquis.
Sylvain Marquis. Some said he was the top chocolatier in Paris. He did, too, she thought. She knew he had that confidence. She knew it from that picture of his hand she carried on her laptop.
His boxes were the color of raw wood and tied with shipping string. The name stamped on them — SYLVAIN MARQUIS — dominated them, the color of dark chocolate, the font a bare, bold statement.
Cade breathed in, seeking courage from the scents and sights. Heady excitement gripped her, but also, in strange counterpoint, fear, as if she was about to walk naked onto a stage in front of a hundred people. She shouldn't feel this way. Chocolate was her business, her heritage. Her dad often joked her veins ran with the stuff. A significant portion of the global economy actually did run off the chocolate her family produced. She could offer Sylvain Marquis incredible opportunity.
And yet she felt so scared to try she could barely swallow.
She kept seeing her family's most famous bar, milk chocolate wrapped in foil and paper and stamped with her name — 33 cents on sale at Wal-Mart. Those 33-cent bars had put more money in her family's bank accounts than most people could imagine. Certainly more than he could imagine. And yet her soul shriveled at the thought of taking the one in her purse out and displaying it in these surroundings.
"Bonjour," she said to the nearest clerk, and excitement rushed to her head again, driving out everything else it contained. She'd done it. She'd spoken her first word of French to an actual Parisian, in pursuit of her goal. She had studied Spanish and French off and on for most of her life, so that she could easily communicate when she visited their cacao plantations. For the past year, she had also paid native French speakers to tutor her toward her purpose, an hour a day and homework every night, focusing on the words she had come here today to use — samples, marketing, product lines. And chocolat.
And now, finally, here she was. Speaking. About to put la cerise sur le gateau of the whole new line she was planning for the company. The cherry on the cake...maybe they could do something with La Cerise as one of the new line's products...
"Je m'appelle Cade Corey. I'll take five samples of everything here, one of each kind per box, please." Only one of those boxes was for her. The others were to send back to Corey Chocolate headquarters in Corey, Maryland. "And while you are boxing that up, I have a meeting with Sylvain Marquis."
Her French sounded so beautiful, she couldn't restrain a tiny smile of pride. It just came tripping off her tongue, with only the merest stutter getting started. All that work had paid off.
"Yes, Madame," the crisply attired young man answered in English, as coolly and precisely as a pin.
She blinked, her balloon of happiness shriveling, humiliated by one word in her own language.
"M. Marquis is with the chocolates, Madame," he said, still in English, setting her back teeth. Her French was much better than his English, thank you. Or merci.
A young woman began to fill boxes with Cade's chocolates while the snobbish young man guided her through a door in the back of the shop.
She stepped into a magical world and almost managed to forget that slap of English in her face as her happiness balloon swelled right up again. In one corner, a lean man in glasses with the fine face of a poet or a nerd, poured generous ladles of white chocolate over molds. In another, a woman with her hair covered by a transparent plastic brimmed cap, used a paintbrush to touch up chocolate owls. Two more women were filling boxes with small chocolates. More women still were laying finely decorated sheets of plastic over chocolates grouped by the dozen and tamping down on each chocolate gently, transferring the decoration.
At the central table of rose-colored marble, a man took a large whisk to something in a bain marie that looked as if it must by itself weigh forty pounds, a faint white powder rising in the air around him. Across from him, another lean man, this one with a tiny dark beard on his chin, squeezed chocolate from a pastry bag into a mold from which lollipop handles protruded. His wedding ring glinted in a ray of light from the windows.
They were all lean, in fact. Surprisingly so, for people who worked all day with chocolate only a bite away. Only one man, tall and burly, stood out for his paunch, and he seemed entirely cheerful with his weight. Everyone wore white, and everyone had a paper cap, styles differing according to role. It was a world with a hierarchy, clearly defined for all to see.
Over the sinks hung brushes, spatulas, whisks. On the marble counter stood a large electric scale and an enormous mixer. On a counter to one side were all sizes of containers and bowls. Filled with raisins, candied oranges, sugar, they surrounded those working at the great marble island.
Everyone glanced up at her entry, but most focused on their work again. Only one man, expertly stroking chocolate over marble, spared her a lingering gaze that held greater authority and perhaps more dismissal.
Tall and lean, he had black hair that fell in slightly wavy locks to his chin. He had tucked it carelessly behind his ear on one side, clearly exposing his strong, even features. A white paper toque minimized the risk of any of the rest of it falling into some client's chocolate. Chocolate smeared the front of the white chef's jacket he wore.
He was beautiful.
She swallowed, her mouth feeling dry. All the scents, the activity, the realization that the best chocolatier in Paris was, in person, even more attractive than in his photos, it all swirled around in her, surging up in ever-heightened excitement. She was here. In her dream. This was going to be so much fun.
And Sylvain Marquis was hot.
Excerpted from The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand. Copyright 2012 by Laura Florand. Excerpted by permission of Kensington Publishing Corp.